'A three-hour tour? On a boat?" my brother asked with a raised eyebrow. "What could possibly go wrong?"
He walked toward the gangplank ahead of the rest of our group of six, softly humming the Gilligan's Island theme song.
A brisk week in November found my brothers and me, along with our significant others, trekking around Iceland in search of culture and relaxation - but mostly, the elusive and entrancing aurora borealis, the Northern Lights. We hadn't traveled together since we were kids, and I felt that seeing something really magical together would help make up for lost time.
Perhaps the name gave it away, but Iceland is not at its warmest in the fall and winters. The chilly weather is part of the deal, though, as long, dark nights make for prime aurora borealis-spotting, as does the allegedly clear outlook at this time of year.
Our Northern Lights-hunting boat cruise was designed to take borealis-seekers away from the man-made light pollution of Reykjavik and out onto the ocean, where dark skies yield optimal viewing conditions.
The night we went was anything but optimal, cloudy and dotted with showers. The mercury registered a whopping 34 degrees. We boarded the boat anyway, and my optimism outweighed the reasonable assumption that the bad weather had pushed any chance of seeing the lights out of grasp.
By the time the boat had left the city lights of Reykjavik behind, that optimism had officially gone out to sea; the six of us were wind-blown, rain-soaked, and wobbly legged as the boat rocked to and fro, no closer to the Northern Lights than we would have been had we stayed in Philadelphia. We traipsed below deck, dejected, for the rest of the three-hour cruise, and tried to fall asleep as the rocking boat slowly made its way back to port.
As we trekked back to our hotel in the wee hours of the morning, we tried to convince ourselves that we never really expected to see the lights, anyway. Really, what were the chances?
The following evening, our last in Iceland, my husband and I were taking a walk outside our hotel when I glanced up. There were still clouds above, but one of them had a distinct blue-green tinge, and soon it began shape-shifting, before streaking across the sky in a dramatic arc. This was not just any old cloud.
"Northern Lights!" I screamed, pointing skyward and startling more than a few others who were on the sidewalk nearby. The two of us ran away from the hotel lights and down toward the sea, where the sky was darker, clearer. There, the aurora borealis was unmistakable and putting on a show just for us - and, well, for the dozens of others from the tour bus who happened to be passing by at the right moment.
Suddenly, my cellphone binged once, then twice. It was my brothers, each in different neighborhoods of the city, both texting the same thing: Look up.
Even though we didn't see the aurora borealis when we were swaying side-by-side on that rocking boat, I think it's fair to say we were together, all looking up at the same flashing green Reykjavik sky.
Alix Gerz writes from Philadelphia.
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